Think you’re doing a great job managing? Think again.

Australia’s managers consistently overrate both their own — and their organisation’s — efficacy at engaging and recognising the value of employees, according to a new study commissioned by Achievers, a provider of employee recognition software which gives insights on how to manage culture in the modern workplace.

The inaugural ‘Engagement and Recognition @ Work’ study identified a sizable disconnect between what Australian managers think is occurring in their workplaces, in terms of how engaged employees feel in all aspects of work and whether they feel suitably recognised and rewarded for their efforts, and how employees actually feel.

Ultimately, managers think employees are more highly engaged and recognised than they actually are.

More than twice as many Australian employees (25%) as management (12%) say they are dissatisfied with their workplace as a result. This highlights a significant challenge facing managers that fail to act to close the gap between their own versus their employees’ perceptions and expectations.

“Managers are misreading engagement levels across organisations by some pretty significant multipliers,” said Matt Seadon, Managing Director APAC at Achievers. “As a manager, you may think you’re doing a good job, but our research is demonstrating that there’s a disconnect between what you think and what your employees are feeling. The disconnect validates the need to better measure engagement, improve voice-of-employee and get real actionable insights about your team that you can recognise and appropriately reward.”

The firm claims that when employees are disengaged, it saps their motivation, productivity and job satisfaction. It believes they aren’t as committed to the corporate culture and its goals, which is reflected in the quality of their work, and acts as a handbrake to business performance and growth.

Managers who lack the tools to really hear employees lack appropriate insight and consequently over-estimate their grasp on the issues. Over time, that disconnect manifests in employee issues — absenteeism and turnover — and kills any prospect of creating an environment where employees can do the best work of their lives.

The ‘Engagement and Recognition @ Work’ study proves a focus on engagement and recognition in key interactions between managers and employees — at onboarding, during team meetings, and in regular check-in sessions — is effective at keeping the two sides ‘in sync’ and focused on a common goal.

Engagement and recognition are closely tied to job satisfaction and business success. Engagement is crucial to higher productivity and sales, reduced turnover, improved quality of work and health, and lower absenteeism. Recognition is one of the easiest and most effective way to improve engagement company-wide.

Engaged and well-recognised employees tend to be more satisfied with their jobs, are motivated to give more effort, are more productive, and stay longer.

At Onboarding

Managers rate their onboarding process for new employees considerably more favourably than the employees that undergo it.

Only 9% of employees surveyed feel ‘strongly’ engaged during the onboarding process, far less than the 24% of employees that managers think emerge from the process thinking that. In addition, 11% of employees ‘strongly agree’ they were suitably engaged in the onboarding process, compared to the 26% of employees that managers think would say that.

Management also overstates how well employees are recognised for their skills and value during the onboarding process. Only 10% of employees ‘strongly agree’ their skills were recognised at onboarding, whereas managers think 23% of employees would say that.

During Team Meetings

Team meetings are an important collaborative process in the workplace, one where employees want to feel engaged and that their contributions are appropriately valued.

One quarter of Australian employees say they do not feel engaged in team meetings. Managers think only 9% of employees would identify as such. In addition, half as many employees as managers think employees emerge from team meetings believing they were suitably engaged.

The disconnect is even wider when it comes to recognising the skills and contributions of employees during team meetings. Only 9% of employees ‘strongly agree’ they are recognised appropriately during meetings, compared to 25% of employees that managers think ‘strongly agree’ on that front.

At Regular Check-Ins

One-in-five (20%) of employees surveyed say they don’t feel properly engaged during managerial check-ins, a figure managers believe is only 9%. Only 13% of employees leave a check-in meeting ‘strongly’ satisfied; managers think twice as many employees do.

Only 14% of employees leave a check-in meeting ‘strongly’ satisfied with the recognition they received; managers think 24% of employees leave check-ins in that state of mind.

The Work-From-Home Disconnect

Working from home can potentially lead to disengagement from the workplace and a lack of recognition.

Management is more likely to rate working from home as a positive for engagement and recognition. Managers also felt more engaged with employees when at home. Employees (37%) were considerably more likely than managers (21%) to experience engagement issues whilst working from home.

The ‘Engagement and Recognition @Work’ study interviewed managers and employees from 755 Australian organisations of at least 50 people.

Industry Specific – Manufacturing

The managers of Australian manufacturers considerably overstate their ability to inspire new hires during the onboarding process — as much as seven times greater than what employees leave the process thinking.

Managers think 29% of employees leave the onboarding process feeling their value and skills were “strongly” recognised, whereas just 4% of employees actually do. Employee satisfaction at how engaging the onboarding process is also 3.9 times lower than managers think.

Team meetings are similarly ineffective forums, with employees feeling 2.5x less engaged and 2.2x less engaged than managers believe.

Information, Media and Telecommunications (IM&T)

Managers in the tech-dominant Australian IM&T sector grossly over-estimate their impact on employees and their ability to make employees feel valued. Across the board, managers believe their performance is between 2x and 5x higher than employees actually rate it.

Employees feel 3.7x less engaged and 2.7x under-recognised compared to manager’s expectations.

Employee satisfaction with engagement levels during onboarding comes in 2.9x lower than managers think. Similarly, employees satisfaction is 2.5x lower in team meetings, and 2.3x lower during management check-ins.

Employees say the recognition they receive from managers is even worse, rating it 3.3x lower than expected overall, 3.4x lower during onboarding, 2.8x lower in team meetings, and 3.7x lower in check-in meetings.

Strangely, this huge disconnect in thinking doesn’t negatively weigh on job satisfaction.

Professional, Scientific and Technical Services

Managers in professional, scientific and technical services industries are considerably more humble and in-tune with employees than other sectors.

Employees report onboarding processes and team meetings as being more engaging experiences than managers think. On other indicators, such as overall work experience and in check-in meetings, employees and managers are aligned and in sync on appropriate levels of engagement.

However, managers could work on the recognition they give to employees, particularly during onboarding, where employees feel under-recognised by a factor of 2.7 to 3.2 compared to managers’ expectations.

“The disconnect on employee recognition in professional, scientific and technical services industries is easily addressable. Given managers are generally in sync with employees’ needs, we consider it likely they will find this oversight surprising and move to understand and address it quickly in their own organisations,” said Matt Seadon, General Manager APAC at Achievers.

Government; Federal, State and Local

Public sector managers and employees are generally in sync around employee engagement and recognition, with managers believing the situation is only marginally better than employees think.

Sector participants, however, are conservative markers, and are much less likely than their counterparts in other industries to express “strong” opinions on how they — and their departments or agencies — rate on employee issues.

Financial and Insurance Services

Managers in Australian finance and insurance organisations believe employees are more engaged in the workplace than they are.

Employees are 1.7x less likely to rate overall engagement as strong compared to managers. Employees also find onboarding 1.4x less engaging, team meetings 1.7x less engaging, and check-ins with managers 1.5x less engaging, than managers believe.

Managers in the finance sector could also provide employees with a greater level of recognition to raise job satisfaction. Finance sector employees are 1.7x less likely to strongly endorse their overall on-the-job recognition than managers think.

Retail Trade

Australia’s retail trade managers under-estimate how engaging their workplaces are but substantially over-estimate how well they recognise employees’ skills and achievements.

With the exception of onboarding processes, employees are 2-3 times more satisfied with the level of engagement they see in the workplace, in team meetings and during manager check-ins.

Where the two differ is on recognition: employees are between 1.8 and 3.6 times less likely to think they receive appropriate levels of recognition in the workplace overall, as well as in specific processes like onboarding (3.6x lower), in team meetings (3.2x lower) and in check-ins with managers (8.6x lower).

“Retail trade was hit hard by the pandemic. Employees may have had to work longer hours in frontline roles that exposed them to COVID-19; others were stood down or faced reduced hours and pay due to lockdowns. With economic conditions improving, it’s time to revisit some of the fundamentals of employee engagement and satisfaction that may have been put aside or forgotten during the crisis,” said Matt Seadon, General Manager APAC at Achievers.

Construction

Employees in the Australian construction sector feel under-engaged and under-recognised by their managers and employers.

Employees say they feel 2.4x less engaged than managers expect and are 3.5x less satisfied with overall engagement in the workplace. It’s a similar story when it comes to them being recognised for their skills and achievements; employees are 2.8x less satisfied with recognition compared to what their managers think.

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